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Review-a-Day
The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, November 29th, 2005


 

Accidents

by

New Fiction

A review by Joseph O'Neill

The novel is such a noisy site of formal experimentation that it's easy to undervalue its long-standing, perhaps even quintessential, function as a describer of the bourgeois adventure -- roughly speaking, the pursuit of plenitude in matters of love, work, and leisure. Indeed, it is nowadays oddly daring for a real artistic talent (that is, one properly attentive to considerations of language and truthfulness) to "confine" itself to this task. And yet when you read a book like Yael Hedaya's Accidents -- a fine-grained, tragicomic, and always gripping portrait of adult love in the making -- you wonder why so few such books are produced, and why they are not more fanfared.

Of course, any summary of Accidents reduces it to banality. Suffice it to say that we are concerned with Yonatan -- a widowed middle-aged writer living with his pre-teen daughter, Dana, in a Tel Aviv apartment whose rooms are "pieces in a puzzle of despondency" -- and with Shira, a novelist in her mid-thirties whose father is dying. Tel Aviv here is civilized, politically cocooned ("fundamentally, we are a barbaric country, and no amount of ciabattas and focaccias will change that," somebody remarks), and oddly hospitable to the unhurried, incremental passion in which the two chief actors become involved. At any rate, in lieu of a twisting plot (and realistic fiction, one might plausibly argue, should be as uneventful as possible) there is a flow of episodes sustained by the indefinable narrative pressure that signals a work of true imaginative engagement. Hedaya alternates between viewpoints -- male and female, adult and adolescent -- with unflinching empathy, never ignoring the poetical sparks of the everyday: an impending breakup hovers over a couple "like an ugly chandelier"; a stopping truck makes the sound of a peacock's scream. This book is, in every sense, the real deal.


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